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About this project

The African Origins Project invites members of the public to assist in identifying the historical origins of Africans transported in the transatlantic slave trade. This website presents details of thousands of Africans liberated from slaving vessels in the early 19th century. Those with knowledge of African languages, cultural naming practices, and ethnic groups can assist in identifying these Africans' origins by drawing on their own expertise to identify the likely ethno-linguistic origin of an individual's name.

For more information, contact the African Origins project team.

History of the Project

The African Origins project arose directly from the work of G. Ugo Nwokeji and David Eltis, who in 2002 used audio recordings of names found in Courts of Mixed Commission records for Havana, Cuba, and Freetown, Sierra Leone, to identify likely ethno-linguistic origins. The names in these recordings were pronounced by speakers of the same language and accent that the Courts of Mixed Commission registrars would likely have had (e.g., if the name was written in a Havana register, Eltis and Nwokeji had the name pronounced by a Spanish speaker with a Havana accent). This helped connect the sound of the name to its spelling and thus enabled a more accurate assessment of the name’s possible ethnic origins than provided by its written counterpart alone. Eltis and Nwokeji played these recordings to informants in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Angola and to members of the African diaspora in parts of North America, who were able to identify through these pronunciations the likely ethnic group from which the name derived. Such one-on-one research with informants, though successful, proved highly time consuming and yielded little more than two identifications for each African in their dataset, and led to the pursuit of an online method of broadly soliciting volunteers to assist with this project.

Project Team

Many people contributed to the creation and implementation of this site. They include the following (unless otherwise indicated, Project Development Team members were affiliated with Emory University):


  • David Eltis – Woodruff Professor of History (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
  • Martin Halbert (co-PI through September 2009) – Dean of Libraries and Associate Professor (University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA)
  • Philip Misevich (co-PI from August 2010) - Assistant Professor of History (Denison University, Granville, Ohio, USA)


  • Richard Anderson – Sierra Leone Consultant (Yale University, USA)
  • Edna Bay – Diaspora Outreach Consultant
  • Alex Borucki – Researcher, University of California at Irvine, USA)
  • Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson – Ghana Consultant
  • Domingos Dellamonica – Programmer
  • Daniel B. Domingues da Silva – Central Africa Consultant and Portuguese Translator (University of Missouri, Columbia, USA)
  • Suzan Eltis – English Name Pronunciations
  • Mark Kendall – Volunteer Research Assistant
  • Omar Granados – Havana-Spanish Name Pronunciations
  • Premysl Herold – Programmer
  • Nafees M. Khan – Diaspora Liaison and Outreach Coordinator (2009-2011) and Project manager (2011-12)
  • Paul Lachance (University of Ottawa)
  • Henry Love – Research Assistant
  • Henry Lovejoy – Havana Register Research (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
  • Leonardo Marques – Audio Editor, Outreach Assistant, and Portuguese Translator
  • Oscar Grandio Moráguez – Spanish Name Pronunciations (York University, Toronto, Canada)
  • Stacey Martin – GIS Consultant
  • Liz Milewicz – Project Manager (2009-2011)
  • Philip Misevich – Upper Guinea Consultant (St. John’s University, New York, USA)
  • Lovia Mondesir – French Translator
  • G. Ugo Nwokeji – Nigeria Consultant (University of California, Berkeley, California, USA)
  • Ijeoma Ohiaeri – Nigeria Consultant and Outreach Advisor
  • Olatunji Ojo – Benin and Nigeria Consultant (Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada)
  • Frank Owen – Systems Engineer (Owenworks, Inc., Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
  • Daniel Prentis – Technical Lead (Kaktus Software, Prague, Czech Republic)
  • Jan Zich – Technical Consultant (, Seattle, USA)


  • Edna Bay (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
  • Daniel B. Domingues da Silva (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
  • Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
  • Allen Howard (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)
  • Walter Hawthorne (Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
  • Linda Heywood (Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
  • Henry Lovejoy -- Havana Register Research (University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA)
  • Philip Misevich (Denison University, Granville, Ohio, USA)
  • G. Ugo Nwokeji (University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA)
  • Olatunji Ojo (Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada)
  • Elisée Soumonni (Université Nationale du Bénin, Cotonou, Benin)
  • John Thornton (Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Early Contributors of African Names

In addition to the numerous and anonymous members of the public whose suggestions have and will continue to make possible the reconstruction of Africans’ history, we would like to thank the following individuals whose knowledge, time, and research were invaluable to launching this project.

  • Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson
  • Tazieff Koroma
  • Henry Lovejoy
  • Philip Misevich
  • G. Ugo Nwokeji
  • Ijeoma Ohiaeri
  • Olatunji Ojo



Emory University is internationally recognized as an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged, and diverse community, whose members work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world through courageous leadership in teaching, research, scholarship, health care, and social action. Emory University Libraries have played a leadership role in building a national digital library network, supporting innovative technology initiatives, and developing premier research collections and instructional programs that make the library a destination for students and scholars.

The Emory University Office of the Provost's Research Collaboration in the Humanities grant program fosters interdisciplinary research in the humanities and multi-disciplinary collaborations between the humanities and the social and hard sciences. The grant program builds on Emory’s existing strengths in the humanities while building new conversations across a spectrum of disciplines.


The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. Each year the NEH designates a portion of its grants as "We the People" projects -- a special recognition by the NEH for model projects that advance the study, teaching, and understanding of American history and culture.


Through fellowships to scholars, sponsorship of a range of cultural and educational events and projects, and affiliation with other outreach programs, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research advances study and understanding of the African diasporic experience.


Many individuals supported the work of the project and the project team, too numerous to name here. In addition to heartfelt thanks to the various individuals at Emory University, Emory University Libraries, and the National Endowment for the Humanities who provided assistance to this project, we especially acknowledge Marcy Alexander and Allison Rollins of Emory University’s History Department, for the considerable attention and care they gave to supporting the administrative needs of this project.
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DBI W.E.B Du Bois Institute
(Harvard University)
National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment
for the Humanities
Emory University
African Origins: Portal to Africans Liberated from Transatlantic
Slave Vessels. Copyright 2009 Emory University. All rights reserved.
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